Scientists Discover Gene Mutations Associated with Schizophrenia

Two international teams of researchers claim to have discovered genetic mutations that strongly influence a person’s likelihood of having schizophrenia and dozens of genes that could play a role in the development of the disease. The findings were disclosed in two articles published in the journal Nature.

Genetic mutations help map the origins of schizophrenia in the brain.

Development of new drugs

Schizophrenia is a mental condition characterized by hallucinations, periods of psychosis and a detachment from reality. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that the disease affects one in 300 people worldwide. But so far, it’s not really known what happens in the brain to trigger it.

Scientists say the new findings are unlikely to have an immediate impact on the lives of patients with schizophrenia, but they could help improve drug treatment in the near future.

Medications for schizophrenia already exist, but they do not attack the root of the disorder. The drugs in use only attenuate the effects or symptoms, without treating or curing the disease itself.

The most common medication for schizophrenia is chlorpromazine, originally developed as an anesthetic, but later doctors discovered that it helps prevent hallucinations in psychiatric patients. “It was an accidental finding. It didn’t come from psychiatric research,” says Stephan Ripke, a researcher at Berlin’s Charité University Hospital and co-author of one of two articles published in Nature.

Ripke and the other scientists believe that, in addition to helping to determine a person’s risk of having schizophrenia, the new findings could contribute to the development of drugs to specifically attack the root cause of the disease.

Why is it difficult to study schizophrenia

Schizophrenia usually begins to manifest in patients in their late teens, around age 20.

Researchers have already managed to study the environmental aspect of the disease: they have found, for example, that the environment in which a person grows up, the use of marijuana in adolescence and the mother’s diet during pregnancy can increase the chance of developing the disorder.

Although scientists know that schizophrenia is 60% to 80% hereditary, they had little knowledge about the genetics of the disease until now.

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